Naomi Wolf’s latest book, Outrages, was set to release Tuesday, June 18th, but it is now being postponed by the publisher due to unchecked data stirring up controversy. Outrages is a nonfiction account of 19th century British laws that allowed for the criminalization and punishment for those who were found to be in same-sex relationships. After an on-air appearance last month, claims arose that Wolf misinterpreted much of her research leaving a gaping hole in her book.
The publisher, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, isn’t taking any chances with this discrepancy and has recalled 35,000 copies of the book from retailers who were all set to get these up on shelves for tomorrow. This isn’t the first time Wolf has found herself entangled in criticism regarding the accuracy of her books. Before this, she has released The Beauty Myth and Vagina: A New Biography, where she was accused of exaggerating how many women die of anorexia and making strange claims about female biology. Neither book was taken off of shelves to correct those inconsistencies, so it is surprising that Houghton Mifflin Harcourt decided to do that with this book.
image via publisher’s weekly
Wolf stands by her work, which claims there have been several instances of executing men who were caught having sexual relations with other men. BBC Radio host, Matthew Sweet, claimed the “death recorded” statements on the prison records doesn’t necessarily mean these men were executed; possibly, they pardoned by the judge. There is a stark difference between being executed and being pardoned, and it is easy to see where Wolf made that mistake. According to Sweet, “death recorded” was “a category that was created in 1823 that allowed judges to abstain from pronouncing a sentence of death on any capital convict whom they considered to be a fit subject for pardon.”
The issue is that if her book is to record the plight of gay men in 19th century England, she has to be able to that correctly. By making claims of execution where the evidence doesn’t back that up, she does more harm to the LGBTQIA+ community than good. The problem, however, is that when nonfiction books are picked up by a publisher, the company rarely fact checks the author’s work. Instead, it falls on the author’s time and dime to make that happen. By hiring a historian to fact check and help her reinterpret the evidence, I’m sure Wolf and her publisher can get to the truth at hand.
Outrages has already released in the U.K., but the publisher has not said whether they will take the books off of shelves there to fix the error or if they will just re-edit for a new edition.